Large urban centers like Philadelphia are often thought of as places with high volumes of pollution and virtually no green space where crops could thrive. It's hardly a terrain where you could raise chickens or grow corn, right?
But Nati Passow is countering that theory and going where others may not have gone before at his home in West Philadelphia. On second thought, he said that there are many others just like him.
"Philadelphia is at the forefront of the urban, agricultural scene," said Passow, co-director of the Jewish Farm School, a West Philadelphia-based organization that studies environmental issues and promotes sustainable agriculture.
The school, which was founded in 2005, plans to team up with neighboring synagogue Kol Tzedek to deliver a four-part series highlighting the various ways to make city living more environmentally friendly. Focusing on creating a "sustainable Philadelphia" — and utilizing and creating "socially just" food systems — the series, scheduled for Oct. 18, Oct. 25, Oct. 26 and Oct. 28, will feature representatives from Mill Creek Farm, the Philadelphia Orchard Project, the Fair Food Project and Philly Car Share, as well as Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center.
"The goal of the program is to reach people living in the city who aren't aware of environmental initiatives going on," said Passow.
He said that the series will focus on finding markets for farmers who live within 100 miles, what people can do with waste products, and how they can utilize recycling programs and devise storm-water runoff systems.
The program will also feature a workshop that teaches the ins and outs of home gardening, focusing on small plots of land. It will also instruct in bike repair, which organizers hope will encourage people to navigate the city in a nonpolluting way.
While growing food in an urban garden may provide fresh, nutritious fruits and vegetables for some — and constitute a nice hobby as well — the implications of "city farming" for those in poorer communities would, no doubt, prove far greater.
"Community gardens are growing an enormous amount of food," stated Passow. "It can get to people who generally don't have access to fresh food. Corner stores don't really sell much produce, and it's leading to epidemic levels of diabetes and obesity."
He further wants the program to draw some suburbanites — who generally drive to work, power large houses and often have a larger "environmental footprint" — to show them the benefits of city life.
From a Jewish perspective, he went on to explain, many passages in the Bible and the Talmud teach about ensuring that all members of the community have access to food.
"There is a rich tradition in Judaism," said Passow, "of creating food systems for people who are a little bit more vulnerable."